Jitka Klimková on What It Takes to Be Successful as a Soccer Player
The former U.S. U20 Women’s National Team head coach Jitka Klimkova is now coaching at the Internationals SC.
Talent is not going to help you to achieve the goals, it is about hard work.
Jitka Klimková is a world-class coach. A former professional soccer player who played for the Czech national team as a defender, Klimková took over the U.S. U20 Women’s National Team as head coach in April 2017. She strongly believes in finding the correct balance between developing players to their maximum potential and producing winning results on the field.
In the 2018 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup last August did not achieve the desired results and did not advance. The USA emerged with 4 points in third place behind top-ranked and future finalist Spain with 7 points and Japan who secured the No. 2 spot with 6 points. Klimková team fought hard and earned respect on the field showing tremendous mental toughness.
Klimková was an assistant coach for the New Zealand Women’s National Team in 2014 and has been a scout for U.S. Soccer. With her extensive international experience, it seems only fitting that she joins Internationals Soccer Club, the Ohio based youth soccer club recognized for developing USA National Team players as well as professional and collegiate players.
SoccerToday Interview with Trailblazer Jitka Klimková
Diane Scavuzzo: As someone who has coached at the highest level in America at the U-20 level, how do you feel your expertise will help youth players at Internationals SC?
Jitka Klimková: Coaching is about inspiring young players to do their best on and off the field. While the level of the players is a little bit different if you compare club soccer with the national team soccer — but the goal is the same — to help players to get better. Internationals SC has created an amazing culture. It’s something I have never experienced before.
Diane Scavuzzo: What makes it so special? What is it about the culture that you like so much?
Jitka Klimková: At Internationals SC, it is not just about developing players, it is developing people on and off the field.
Our players want to be better every day and we are preparing these young players for real life.
I’ve been here for a couple of weeks and the players can play good soccer. Before I came here, I knew they had a really good style of play, but I didn’t expect this amazing culture.
It is a culture in which the coaches and staff take good care of the players and the players really appreciate it —When you are with the National team, there is a big staff that takes care of the players. All the U20 players had to do was just show up, train, and go back to their room — that’s their job.
Here, the players come and ask what they can do, how can they help us, as the coaches.
Diane Scavuzzo: What was the greatest challenge when coaching the U20s?
Jitka Klimková: I think they just made me better.
I have coached in Australia, New Zealand, and in the Czech Republic. Coaching the U.S. players — that was the best level and quality of soccer I have ever coached.
Diane Scavuzzo: What was the game that was most memorable?
Jitka Klimková: That’s a good question. We played a lot of games and I have to say every game was memorable.
I will say one of the most exciting games probably was in China when we played against Iran. What was really interesting for us was after the game, we spent some time with the group and the coach was just so open, asking us, “What do you think? How did we play? What do you think about us?”
You know, this is not common. We said we were impressed with how passionate they were. It was a special moment for us. Of course, every World Cup game is something you don’t experience every day — so being at the World Cup with the U20 team and playing games against really strong teams from Japan and Spain, that was also very special.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you think American players stack up against the players in the rest of the world?
Jitka Klimková: We are really very athletic, always have been and our team was very strong mentally.
Americans are not going to give up even when they are down and that’s special about our USA players.
In our last group game, at the U20 Women’s World Cup, we were actually losing against Spain 2-0. We came back. We tied the game and we created so many chances at the end of the game.
This is unique and special about Americans. They compete to the end.
I think what is really great is that we are getting better technically and we are getting better with our decision making. I have lived in America for the last five years and I have seen us focusing on technique and being better keeping the ball better — so you can really see it on the field that our players’ skills are improving.
Diane Scavuzzo: How can players improve their soccer I.Q.? Their decision making?
Jitka Klimková: By studying the game. I would encourage players to watch the game, to study it. The Women’s World Cup is only a couple of months away and every game can teach our younger players to make better decisions.
If they will study the style of play, watch the players who play their position — they can really learn a lot.
As coaches, if we create quality training sessions where players have to make the decision, not be told what to do, it can help them get better with decision making.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you think a lot of American coaches are still telling their players what to do instead of helping them discover the right things to do?
Jitka Klimková: I think it’s getting better — I think a lot of coaches are realizing that’s one of the most efficient ways of coaching is to ask questions.
It’s getting better, but we are not there yet.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you think is going to be your greatest challenge at Internationals SC?
Jitka Klimková: With the National team, you only have a team for a week, and you try to make the most of it during that week.
At Internationals SC, you have the players every day, almost every day. You are on the field almost every day. I haven’t been on the field every day for a couple of years and I am so excited.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you miss most about coaching the National team?
Jitka Klimková: I am very excited just to be part of this great family — I am not missing anything. I know the international game — like the World Cup matches — are exciting for every coach but I feel really honored and happy to have the opportunity to be here.
Diane Scavuzzo: What advice would you give the players all across America?
Jitka Klimková: I realize, and I am more and more sure about it — being successful in soccer is just not about talent.
Talent is not going to help you to achieve the goals. It is really about hard work.
Success in soccer is about the details.
And, how coachable are you on the field? How curious are you? How many questions do you ask? All of those little details really matter.
If you are the player who’s absolutely passionate, loves the game, and have the right mindset to learn every day — that’s the most important thing to one day achieve the dream, or the goal, to be on the National team.
Diane Scavuzzo: When you were selecting players for the National team, what did you look for?
Jitka Klimková: Commitment. That was one of the biggest qualities we were looking for, how committed are the players? How much did they want to get better? Of course, you see how skillful they are, if they are using both feet, how technical they are, how good decision-makers they are, how strong they are …. All of those qualities are really important as well. Passion, commitment, and hard work are on the top my list.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you see the passion in a player? Is it the way they walk on the field, is it the way that they come up after a tough game and ask you for advice? What about a player speaks to you?
Jitka Klimková: You can see it when the player steps on the field, how much she enjoys soccer. If she’s happy with the ball, if she’s happy on the field — I think that’s a good sign.
A player’s face can tell me a lot about her passion and so does her body language.
I love the players who really enjoy what they are doing.
Diane Scavuzzo: You’ve traveled extensively. Do you think that’s a universal trait of a good player?
Jitka Klimková: Yes, definitely. Being a great soccer player is about passion. It’s about happiness. It’s about how much she wants it and what the player is doing to achieve her goals. You need to be able to deal with ups and downs. Players need to understand the journey’s not just a straight pathway.
You have to deal with a not great day, and how she responds to it — that’s really important. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world.
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Irag instead of Iran. We apologize for any confusion this error may have caused.